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Opinion Briefing: U.S.-Latin America Relations

Opinion Briefing: U.S.-Latin America Relations

Latin Americans losing faith in Obama's ability to strengthen ties

by Peter Cynkar

This article is part of a series of U.S. Foreign Policy Opinion Briefings aimed at helping to inform U.S. leaders on pressing foreign policy issues.

Quick Summary: U.S. President Barack Obama's job approval rating in Latin America is at a new low ahead of the Sixth Summit of the Americas taking place in Cartagena, Colombia, this week. Obama's median job approval rating in the region rating stands at 47% in 2011, down from 62% in 2009. Many Latin Americans have lost faith in Obama's ability to strengthen ties between Latin America and the U.S.: A median of 24% across the Latin American countries Gallup surveyed in 2011 believe relations will strengthen with Obama, down from 43% in 2009.

Issue at Hand: Gallup data suggest Obama will likely face a skeptical audience at the summit, which will focus on the role of "physical integration and regional cooperation" as a way to help overcome challenges in areas such as security, technology access, and poverty. Many Latin Americans lack faith that partnerships between the U.S. and Latin American countries will get stronger with Obama.

Obama Administration's Stance: Obama heads to the summit this week seeking to strengthen commercial ties, specifically in the energy sector. At the last summit in 2009, Obama promoted a shift in U.S.-Latin America relations that would be based on an "equal partnership" that would usher in a "new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my [Obama's] administration." This "new chapter" would focus on common economic prosperity issues, reduce inequality in the Americas, promote security, and create energy partnerships.

Latin Americans' Outlook for Relations Under Obama: Latin Americans are less likely now to believe that U.S.-Latin America relations will get stronger than they were at the beginning of Obama's presidency, with a median of 24% saying this across 21 countries surveyed in 2011, down from 43% across 18 countries in 2009.

Relations between U.S. and Latin America medians

In neighboring Mexico, residents were half as likely to believe relations would get stronger under Obama in 2011 (19%) as they were in 2009 (43%). Mexicans, along with Venezuelans (17%), Bolivians (17%), Trinbagonians (16%), and Guatemalans (13%), are the least likely to expect relations to get stronger.

RElationship between U.S. and Latin American will strengthen

Obama's Approval Ratings Drop in Latin America: Obama's median job approval rating in the region stands at 47% in 2011, down from 62% in 2009. The president's approval rating dropped 20 percentage points or more in seven countries between 2011 and 2009. His approval dropped most in neighboring Mexico, from 62% in 2009 to 31% in 2011. Countries where Obama enjoyed approval ratings higher than 70% in 2009, such as Chile and Panama, saw approval ratings drop to 47% and 52%, respectively, in 2011.

Percentage of Latin American who approve of Obama

The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Paraguay are the only countries where the president's approval did not suffer double-digit declines.

Percentage of Latin Americans who approve of Obama

Policy Implications: Gallup studies suggest that people in many Latin American countries do not believe Obama has strengthened the mutually beneficial relationships he pledged to pursue at the 2009 Summit of the Americas. Obama will need to convince a highly skeptical audience that the U.S. is serious about its key commitments to Latin America. This could be the only way Obama can only hope to resuscitate the region's belief that stronger relations are possible between the U.S. and the rest of the Western Hemisphere under his watch.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted each year, in each country reported in this article. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±3.9 to ±5.1 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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